How do we get through unprecedented times? Whether it’s a global pandemic, life during a ruthless regime, or a life-altering separation between family members, sometimes the greatest takeaways from our experiences are gleaned when we approach unthinkable events with an eye for humor, levity, and absurdity. In Gary Shteyngart’s recent book Our Country Friends—one of many that jabs an unflattering doppelgänger of the author himself—a Russian-born comic novelist (like Shteyngart himself) finds refuge from the pandemic’s isolating early days upstate with a dysfunctional circle of friends. Alejandro Zambra “understands that absurdity and sincerity share a room,” writes the Chicago Review of Books of Chilean Poet, the latest work by the author who is, incidentally, himself a Chilean poet—and who found profound revelation in meta-fiction in his novel Ways of Going Home. Both keen observers—able to puncture literary self-seriousness with self-reflexive absurdity then spin absurdity into melancholy and open-hearted prose that ultimately reasserts the vast power of writing—Shteyngart and Zambra come together to talk about writing humor; the balance of levity and despair in disastrous times; their novels’ sly intertextual relationships to works of (respectively, Russian novelistic and Chilean poetic) literary canon; and much more. This conversation will be moderated by National Book Award finalist Dana Spiotta, author of the novels Wayward and Innocents and Others.
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